ITS: Further impressions from ITS America’s Annual Meeting & Expo

While the exhibit floor saw lighter traffic, the flow of information ran riot

June 03, 2015

As I stated in my previous post, one of the most challenging aspects of attending a large-scale conference like the ITS America Annual Meeting & Expo is prioritizing your time and attention. There is exponentially more available to you than you could possibly hope to take in. Yet, even knowing that, you nonetheless try.

The exhibit hall, bustling as the opening sessions got underway, saw lighter traffic as the day wore on, which afforded me the chance to browse more casually than I might otherwise have been able to, were I constantly on guard not to walk into people while my eyes were focused on the booths. While I was impressed by the sheer number of companies engaging in various aspects of intelligent systems technology development, my ultimate takeaway was that what seemed to be missing was a whole system that might accommodate these myriad pieces of the technologic pie into one seamless source. This, I imagine, will be something soon to come down the pike.

Many of the individual talks in the various technical sessions rotated, in one aspect or another, around the issue of how to handle data—where to get, how to store it, how to analyze it and how to discriminate useful data from chaff so as to apply it in an intelligent, productive, proactive way. Ion Ho, of Xerox/PARC, in her presentation on space-time diagramming data for public transit systems, said most data collectors simply have way too much coming in, so much in some cases that it is easy to lose sight of what your respective system needs versus what it can get. Everyone wants as much data as possible; there’s no harm in it, at least. You simply store away what you don’t apply and it sits there waiting until the day you do or one of your partners can find use for it.

Complicating data collection is the application of crowdsourcing, which seems to have several definitions and the differences in those definitions can have enormous impact on what the expectations of such data should be. Third-party aggregated data, direct engagement social media, dedicated platforms, the Internet—each artery comes with its advantages and disadvantages. I admit my grip on the finer points was hazy, even as it was being explained to me. Wrestling with how to make socially sourced data useful will, it seems, continue to be a major challenge, especially since social media channels, those in existence and those being developed, are capable of providing pretty much any kind of data you wish to accumulate.

As the second day closed down, I enjoyed Matt Ginsberg’s presentation on Connected Lights, a program he founded that marries an mobile app to streetlights, giving drivers timing information, estimations in real time as to whether they will be able to “make the light” and alarms (“happy noises”) to make them aware of when it is time to turn their attention back to the road. In describing how the app works, Ginsberg said nobody cares about privacy, but everybody cares about security. To wit: I don’t care that a company knows where I am, where I work, how I drive, so long as that knowledge is protected. I’m not sure what to make of such a statement. I don’t know that I believe it. But it is an intriguing question: Are we finally past privacy? Do we all, even if passively, throw in the towel on the idea that our personal information, our secret stuff, even our location on this planet at any given moment, is kept away from the eyes and screens of others? This was just one of several interesting questions that were floated into the ether of the ITS America Annual Meeting & Expo. These questions have no answer—no easy answer at least—and that, for me, in a nutshell speaks to the success of the conference. Unanswered or seemingly unanswerable questions are what drive us ever forward.

Please check back with Roads & Bridges / TM&E later this week for a conversation between TM&E and ITS America president and CEO Regina Hopper.

Brian W. Budzynski

Brian W. Budzynski is the managing editor of Roads & Bridges and its quarterly supplement, Transportation Management & Engineering (TM&E).

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